Botulism can kill both humans and animals, yet the toxin is now being used by doctors to cure diseases and save lives.
The botulism toxin is caused by the clostridium botulinum bacterium. Humans and animals may become infected by ingesting the bacteria which then produces the toxin in the body.
While there are five various types of botulism, the toxin is, overall, rare and potentially curable for humans. Honey is known to carry the bacterial spores, which is why parents are instructed not to give their infants less than 12 months old any honey. Botulism is a neurotoxin and all types of botulism lead to paralysis which starts in the facial muscles then travels down to the limbs. Constipation is the first sign of botulism in infants. Parents may also find their children with flat facial expressions, poor feeding habits, breathing problems and other less noticeable symptoms.
Adult intestinal toxemia botulism occurs in the same manner as infant botulism. In food borne botulism the toxin is within the food; canned foods are especially responsible for causing botulism infection. The other forms of botulism are wound botulism and iatrogenic botulism which occurs from accidental overdose of the toxin.
Though rare, botulism can be fatal, death from botulism usually ensues from respiratory issues and complications derived from weeks or months of paralysis. Those who do survive the illness require years of long-term therapy.
Botulism is commonly known as Botox, which has been popularized by celebrities who use it for cosmetic purposes. Botox injections contain minute amounts of the toxin and can be used to treat and cure some medical conditions. In the 1980s Botulism injections were initially developed to treat strabismus (cross eye) and blepharospasm (excessive blinking) as well as hemifacial spasms (involuntary contractions of the muscles of half of the face). Recent developments have led to the FDA approving the toxins use in treating excessive sweating and chronic migraines. Little is known about dystonia, a disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions. However, since the 1980s treatment of dystonia and the uncomfortable and painful postures associated with it have improved with the addition of botox in therapy. Though controversial, due to lack of knowledge, botox has also been used to treat painful conditions of the skeletal muscles.
Botulism in animals displays clinical signs like drooling, difficulty swallowing, progressive weakness and death. It can be prevented by avoiding ingestion of decaying materials. Decaying grass or grains or decaying animal and bird carcasses can produce high levels of the toxin. Botulism is being held responsible for the death of thousands of birds in the Great Lakes since 2000. Scientists are not sure how the birds obtained the toxin but are looking into it. The fact that the toxin is naturally occurring but may be produced by men makes it difficult for scientists to discern exactly what is causing the vast infection in the birds.
There are many other cases of animal deaths due to Botulism. Botulism in humans is less common with a meager average of 145 cases occurring each year. Scientist are only beginning to unravel the different uses for botulism, though it is very lethal its ability to cure diseases is extremely beneficial to medical science.
By Earnestine Jones